Many happy hemp hopefuls met at
the 2nd Industrial Hemp Symposium in Vancouver last February to discuss the
forthcoming new Canadian Hemp Regulations and welcome the long awaited free
market for Canadian Industrial hemp.
A formal final review of these "fast tracked" hemp regulations for farm and factory was held in March, hosted by the Canadian Government in Ottawa. This formal hemp "pow wow" gave invited domestic hemp industry stakeholders a glimpse into the layers of provincial, federal and international lawsmithing required in order to tuck Canadian hemp into the warm bed of legal reality.
This monumental deed was accomplished by an army of federal employees who had worked around the clock for weeks prior to our arrival. Their hard work showed- for they had, in spite of severe time restrictions, laid out a course of responsible action, backed up with accurate documentation, that would send a fully accountable, modern commercial hemp industry into practical reality in Canada.
Canadian Federal Health Minister Alan Rock announced in March that hemp is now legally accessible as a farm crop and natural resource in Canada. He promised that regulations for a commercial hemp industry would be in place for Spring 1998 planting. True to his word, they were.
These new hemp regulations, although comprehensive in every technical degree and refreshingly forthright; do not completely address the entire spectrum of hemp-based commercial concerns, scale of operation or diversity of activity of all the hemp businesses already in operation across Canada.
To remedy the pressing needs of the hemp fiber producers "champing at the bit" to go commercial, these new federal hemp regulations were zipped through the filters of debate and rushed into law. Although they arrived in a somewhat "wet paint" state, nobody was seriously inconvenienced, as all the stakeholders agreed the thrust was to get the basics nailed down within the limited time-frame without further delay.
Health Canada promised to conduct a detailed review of our hemp industry before the year 2000. At that time, they will carefully re-examine the initial regulations and decide if they require any further modifications. If the Canadian Hemp Industry continues to demonstrate tidy crop containment and complies with good reporting of the harvest, a scaling down of compliance burdens will be considered. After consultation with the stakeholders, necessary changes will be made to address any pressing concerns of government or the private sector.
Hemp stalks and raw fiber are now de-regulated - which means that these primary raw materials can be freely traded without special permits. Hemp textiles, cordage and pulp grown and processed in Canada are now able to be transported and sold without government intervention; provided these Cannabis materials do not exceed specified levels of THC.
The seed however, will be very carefully monitored during the next two years. The seed is the critical point in important hemp industry operations. Health Canada was firm in their position that the genetic potential of the hemp seed determines what variety of Cannabis will be produced.
All Cannabis seed, whether for culinary purposes (now called ‘grain’) or for sowing in the farmers fields (now called ‘seed’) is strictly regulated under the new hemp laws. Sterile hemp seed remains unregulated and has been since 1938. Hemp seed, whether imported or domestically produced is now subject to the standards of the "Canadian Seed Breeders Act" a tough piece of agricultural legislation spelling out the criteria for controlling and maintaining the highest quality germplasm possible. All other key Canadian agricultural crops adhere to these same high standards and hemp is no exception. From day one, hemp in Canada will be able to present a fully accountable pedigree that will ensure low THC levels, yet still enable inspired tinkering with hemp's genetics of utility.
About 20 different fiber varieties have been allowed for sowing on licensed hemp farms across Canada in 1998. Many more will be added as they are identified and developed in the years to come. Canadian Agricultural laboratories are examining several high yielding oil varieties from Europe and Asia and FIN-314, developed by Jace Callaway in Finland, is the first oil seed variety approved for experimental sowing. We are well aware that oil seed is where much of the serious economic and botanical action will be in the next few years.
An unofficial project to track down isolated stands of feral hemp and gather the ripe seed in September has appeared on the Internet. Serious field project contributors are being sought to gather wild hemp seed for further study. Wild Cannabis populations linger in many parts of Canada. Most are escapes from colonial period rope plantations or war effort hemp farms of the present century. These surviving hardy feral gene pools may hold important adaptive features that could be extremely useful in the development of future Canadian industrial hemp varieties. These rustic rope seeds will be discreetly forwarded to qualified plant breeders working to improve industrial hemp at bona fide test farms across the country. Agronomists are also eager to include these "ditchweed" plants in their reviews.
Wild hemp is characteristically very low in euphoric THC and associated cannabinoids. This seems to be especially true when cultivated hemp varieties are acclimatized to the high latitudes of Canada. Wild hemp routinely produces so little THC at maturity that it would be completely unacceptable on the black market where high THC varieties are the norm. Some of these wild Canadian strains are very quick to flower. Ontario feral hemp pants have shed pollen in only a month after germination. These feral stands exhibited a higher ratio of males to females at maturity than the expected 1:1 of most populations.
In April, European hemp entrepreneurs from Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP) with headquarters in Monterey, California opened up offices in Winnipeg. They have contracted about 1,000 acres of hemp to over 40 Manitoba farmers who will grow it on their behalf. CGP seeks to "learn the ropes", this year in preparation for a doubling of scale in 1999 where they hope to grow over 2,000 acres under license and build a new hemp processing plant somewhere in Western Canada.
Kenex Ltd., who added so much to the 1997 momentum for commercial hemp in Canada, has contracted over 2,000 acres of hemp to a close-knit group of 50 farmers. Kenex has spent over $2.5 million CDN importing European hemp processing machinery and building a 20,000 square foot factory near the town of Pain Court, Ontario that will be ready to accept their contract hemp later this summer, according to owner/operator Jean LaPrize. Kenex has added an additional 3,000 square feet to their original factory plans, which will be home to a half dozen basic hemp operations including a fiber extraction line, oil extraction line, core material packaging line, dehulled hemp seed line, non-woven fiber material line and initial hemp thread spinning tests.
Hempline Inc., the pioneer hemp farmers that began the thrust for modern Canadian hemp in 1994, are setting up their own operations near London, Ontario, about 70 km to the north of Kenex. They are contracting a conservative 750 acres of hemp to 30 local farmers who hope to become annual hemp producers. Hempline is completing their cautious, well crafted business plan on schedule and finishing up construction work on their own 5,000 square foot processing plant. Hempline will grow and completely process their homegrown hemp on machinery designed by owner Geof Kime and will deliver finished fiber to select US clients. Their factory will be open for business somewhat ahead of schedule due to the fury of demand for Canadian hemp in both domestic and export markets.
It is not known at this early point how many "exploratory hemp permit" applications were received by Health Canada from first time Canadian Hemp farmers. The new hemp regulations open up full opportunities for hemp farms of modest size on equal legal footing with larger operators. As of March, 1998, any Canadian adult is now free to grow, process, transport or sell all the industrial hemp they wish to anyone who wants it, provided that he or she has not been convicted of a drug offense in the previous ten years, is growing only approved varieties of low THC Cannabis sativa L., is sowing a minimum of 4 hectares of said Cannabis (to preempt science projects and hobby stands) that will not be grown near schools or within sight of major highways, and provided the applicant meets all security and crop reporting criteria as specified in the new hemp regulations.
This joyful pre-millennia hemp "Free-for-All" is likely to be replaced by a proposed 1.5% users fee after 2000, when the hemp regulations are reviewed by the serving Health Minister. This jump reflects the new rules that all keynote Canadian resource industries may have to comply so hemp will be no exception. This policy will likely sweep away the amateur Canadian hemp groups while providing a greater degree of stability for the large-scale Canadian hemp producers. It is hoped that this will inspire confidence for the long haul contracts for hemp resource strategies serving continental and world markets.
The curious stirrings for "Hemp Next Door" was reported in the commodities section of the Wall Street Journal in April. We read and were reminded that Cannabis remains strictly forbidden in the United States. Sentiments from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) insist that marijuana prohibition would be undermined if industrial hemp cultivation was allowed. This message sends echoes of caution across the entire New World. However, Canada can hear the music of opportunity from that side of the fence, and are ready, willing and able to pursue this crop at the end of the 20th century. The Wall Street Journal noted that the versatile hemp crop is de facto in Canada, and offers as evidence the exodus of leading American hemp entrepreneurs shopping for hemp seed, oil, meal and fiber next door.
We are saddened to learn that as Canada woke up to hemp’s potential and scrambled to accommodate this new crop in law, our American cousins had to flee their own nation to pursue hemp opportunities North. Proud Kentucky, the founding state of the former American hemp industry, is launching a lawsuit against the DEA for permission to grow hemp, while Canada only waited for the snow to melt to plant hemp with government blessings. Until such time that US courts rule on that matter, Canada will continue to welcome American customers who seek the safety and convenience of our hemp harvest.
Canada gladly joins the company of modern hemp producing nations and makes ready to deliver this strategic material to world markets. This was not a race to be first in North America, but rather a challenge to become and remain, the best hemp producers in the New World. Canadian hemp businesspersons are planning and refining operations to best serve the special needs of domestic and export clients. In a rapidly changing world, industrial hemp is seen as an excellent natural resource to develop and bring onto the market. If Canada can continue to produce high quality hemp materials and sell them at a good price, it may continue to keep the lead position in this lucrative resource for a long time to come.
Hemp Futures Study Group